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Is al-Qaeda Dead? - Rapporteur Notes

FDD Event with Ambassador Husain Haqqani, Bill Roggio, Reuel Marc Gerecht

May 29, 2012

On Tuesday, May 29, 2012, the Foundation for Defense of Democracies hosted a panel discussion with Ambassador Husain Haqqani, who served as ambassador of Pakistan to the United States from 2008 to 2011. Amb. Haqqani is a professor at Boston University and was previously a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, where he wrote Pakistan: Between Mosque and Military. Joining him was Reuel Marc Gerecht, a senior fellow at FDD, former CIA operative, and author of The Wave: Man, God, and the Ballot Box in the Middle East. The event also featured Bill Roggio, a senior fellow at FDD and editor of its Long War Journal, which provides original reporting and analysis of the global war on terror. FDD President Clifford D. May moderated the discussion.

Ambassador Haqqani began his remarks by thanking those “who were very concerned for my well being in the last few months, especially those months that I spent in Pakistan after I resigned from my position as Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States. As some of you may recall, those were rather difficult times for me. And the support that I got from those who are concerned about democracy and freedom around the world was something that was heartening during those days.”

“Globalization has its disadvantages, but one of its advantages is that even those who say that they don’t like globalization and want to live in isolation are affected by what others say,” Haqqani continued. “So, the judges in Pakistan who basically wanted to restrict my freedom of movement without actually formally charging me with anything definitely were swayed by what some of you wrote and said in this capital, and many others, and for that, I am very grateful.”

Turning to the question of al-Qaeda’s resilience, Haqqani spoke of a book by the sociologist Ayesha Jalal in which she describes a 19th-century radical Islamist movement, originally located in India, which ended up in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan — now in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

It was “the base for a much wider jihad,” Haqqani said. “That was the model of al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda means, literally, ‘the base.’”

Haqqani spoke to al-Qaeda’s world view, conceding that “some of the grievances are not totally unfounded. We must admit to them. But then, the question is, will we actually reconcile ourselves to having the problem of terrorism forever?”

“We can’t wait to deal with terrorists who are an imminent threat until all grievances are resolved. But similarly, we can’t ignore the grievances completely,” he continued.

Haqqani argued that of al-Qaeda’s original leadership, “those few hundred people have been decimated,” but that this was “not the end of al-Qaeda. They have spawned several other groups.”

Al-Qaeda, he pointed out, has metastasized in Iraq, Yemen, and worst of all, Pakistan.

“My greatest concern about Pakistan is the state of denial as a society,” he said. “Because most of us in Pakistan still do not see that, al-Qaeda and the terrorist threat will consume our country.”

“More Pakistanis have died as a result of al-Qaeda-linked groups” than citizens of almost any other nationality, Haqqani remarked.

Clifford D. May asked Haqqani whether there was an inevitability to the decline of democracy, equality, and tolerance in Pakistan.

“Pakistan needs a long-term solution,” Haqqani responded. “Americans do not have the patience for long-term solutions, so therefore Americans will have to have some kind of a short-term solution of al-Qaeda and terrorism. And that’s something your country is trying to debate. I don’t know what the outcome will be, but it’s not going to be good for Pakistan.”

Bill Roggio contended that the United States lacks “an overarching strategy to deal with al-Qaeda and the root causes of terrorism.”

He cited the accepted Washington consensus on Pakistani nuclear mastermind Abdul Qadeer Khan. “We act like he was some kind of an independent actor operating without the approval of the Pakistani state,” he continued. “Was he ordering airplanes to fly and land in North Korea? No. He was operating with the approval of the Pakistani state.”

Another case in point, Roggio said, was “the [2008] Mumbai attacks. Has anyone been prosecuted? No. India and the U.S. have handed over evidence of Lashkar-e-Taiba’s involvement,” and nothing has come of it.

“I don’t think we’re working with Pakistan” on the problem of al-Qaeda, Roggio stated bluntly.

“Osama bin Laden lived in Pakistan since the 9/11 attacks,” he continued, “and I have a difficult time believing that he did it without the support of very powerful individuals in the Pakistani government.”

Roggio also noted the doublespeak on al-Qaeda in Washington, pointing out that the Obama administration continually revised the data on al-Qaeda’s strength. “We’ve been told for three years that there are 300 to 400 al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It’s a static number. Where are they regenerating these guys from? Last year ISAF said they killed 40 al-Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan in a week, and yet that estimate stayed the same.”

Returning to the problems associated with Pakistan, Roggio’s stated that the Pakistanis simply “don’t want to deal with Islamist groups, because they’re still viewed as part of Pakistan’s strategic depth against India.”

Haqqani acknowledged that “some of these groups are going to remain a problem for Pakistan long after the Americans are gone. My solution has been that Pakistan’s own future depends upon defeating terrorism. I do not want a Pakistan in which young female children cannot go to school, which is what the Taliban want.”

Responding to a question from the audience concerning Pakistani conspiracy theories on the death of Osama bin Laden, Haqqani responded with humor.

Some people charge that “Bin Laden was not eliminated in Abbottabad. There are all kinds of theories that he was killed beforehand and then frozen. Some of these guys should actually write movies,” Haqqani said, through laughter.

One member of the audience asked why the U.S. government has spent $300 million a day in Afghanistan, and not 1 percent of that in Pakistan, and why Washington didn’t support civilian reformers.

Roggio acknowledged that the United States spent less money on civil society projects in Pakistan, but that the Pakistani military remained critical to American objectives in South Asia. “The reality is that if the Pakistani people don’t want their military to dominate their politics, ultimately, they have to throw it out. This isn’t something the U.S. can do short of war.”

Reuel Marc Gerecht argued that “the U.S. is going to have an enormous wakeup call when they see the drone program vanish before their eyes. If they do not have an Afghan base and the Pakistani military decides that it’s no longer in their interest to have those drones fly, you will see the entire centerpiece of American counterterrorism disappear quite rapidly, and it’s going to be quite interesting to see what comes in their place.”

"Unmanned aircraft cannot be policy,” Haqqani replied. “It can be part of a policy. But it’s only an instrument.”

"There has to be more than just drones,” Haqqani concluded. “There has to be an understanding…intelligence in both senses of the word. Intelligence as in what Reuel used to do, and intelligence as in the basic ability to think.”